Small Shop Savvy: Donor Stewardship

The Small Shop Savvy series contains thoughts, musings, advice, and maybe some humor from a veteran small shop development director wearing many hats at The GreenMount School in Baltimore, Maryland.

Showing the love to your donors can be a challenge in a school with a tiny budget. It’s a conundrum: the school wants to attract more donors and keep the ones it has, but does not have the extra funds for the sorts of activities the big schools provide to do just that. However, it’s a cycle that can be broken with a bit of Savvy and a few strategic actions.

Action 1

Showcase your Cool Things. Take a good look at your school’s program and activities and list all the things your school does that are unique only to your school. Create a Calendar of Cool Things. Invite one or two of your major donors or prospects to each Cool Thing, pairing the interests of the donor to the nature of the activity. Donors will appreciate the inside look at the activities of the school and will delight in your individual attention, since you will not leave their side. Be sure to have fresh coffee and some muffins or snacks available for your special guest.

Action 2

Take photos. Major donors tend to be successful, popular people and therefore very busy, and though they would like to come to the Cool Thing you have invited them too, they cannot. What to do? The Savvy Donor Steward takes photos of students engaged in school activities as often as possible, and keeps them organized by date, activity, and grade. Email a photo or two after the Cool Thing and describe the interesting highlights. Even if you have not invited your donor to a Cool Thing, a fun photo in their in-box of the adorable students who attend your school will brighten your donor’s day.

Action 3

Write handwritten notes. We take our notes seriously at GreenMount, and every donor receives a note with the formal acknowledgement letter. No matter the size of the gift. If you say gifts of every size make a difference, then every donor should feel that their gift matters. Each annual fund volunteer is trained in the art of the handwritten note. Be Savvy and keep a copy of each note to avoid redundancy year to year. Say something unique to that donor in the note. GreenMount’s annual fund has tripled in the last 6 years; anecdotal information tells us the notes contribute to that success. Use an online printing company to have 5” x 7” notepads printed with the school’s logo and contact information for a more professional and unified appearance to your correspondence.

Action 4

Pay close attention to Grandparent’s Day. In a small school, Grandparent’s Day might be one of the only guest-centered events you can afford to have. Grandparents play a very big role in overall development and admissions decisions. Do not underestimate the power of grandparents and the influence they have on parents at your school. Be sure the Head of School and EVERY teacher has a game plan for the day and that the schedule of activities is engaging and makes sense for grandparents. I have never seen a group of people consume more coffee, and delight in it, than grandparents. Be sure you have plenty of coffee and delicious pastries and fruit. Be sure there are plenty of places to sit, and volunteers to help with parking. Have a professional photographer (this is parent volunteer at GreenMount) take photos of each grandparent with his or her student and then mail them out afterwards. By being Savvy in the gathering of ideas and volunteers you can come up with many low-cost ways for grandparents to feel the love.

Action 5

Be your own caterer. You read that right. If you are a Savvy Volunteer Recruiter, you can also have a low-cost appreciation party for the school’s major donors. Find parents who have a passion for cooking, help them plan a menu within the budget (the school pays for ingredients), and support them in the set-up, serving, clean up, and adoration. Donors appreciate the amazing food cooked by parents of students, and appreciate how every possible donation dollar goes to the school’s program and not to fancy catering. We have also asked guests to BYOB, and they are more than happy to do it. This is a labor intensive venture for the Savvy Donor Steward, but it’s a good way to go for the small school with a tiny budget working to build a program. The other option is to make friends with a local restaurateur and ask him to sponsor the catering…your call, Savvy One.

Good development directors find donors. Savvy ones keep them!